POM Wonderful will raise its minimum wage to $15 — years before California law demands it

The Wonderful Co., a major producer of packaged goods known for its pistachios and POM beverages, announced Wednesday that it will increase its minimum pay to $15 an hour for all of its California workers starting Jan. 1.

That’s three years ahead of the 2022 state-mandated deadline for California employers with 26 workers or more to meet the $15 milestone. It also represents a $4 raise for Wonderful employees making the current minimum wage.

California’s minimum wage is $11 for the rest of 2018 and will bump up to $12 at the start of 2019, though some cities and counties throughout the state have offer higher wages. Minimum wage is already $15 an hour in the city of San Francisco.

About 4,500 of The Wonderful Co.’s 9,000 employees worldwide work in California, communications director Mark Carmel said. About 2,000 of the California employees will see higher wages from the move, he said.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on all of our employees across California who are making the current minimum wage,” Carmel said.

The pay increase will affect workers of Wonderful’s orchards and nurseries, as well as those working in its citrus, pistachio, almond and wine-making operations in California, according to the news release.

Wonderful operates a pistachio plant and an orchard near Fresno, as well as a handful of facilities north of Bakersfield along Highway 99 and Interstate 5.

Minimum wage for 2018 was $11 an hour in Madera, Fresno and Kern counties, where those facilities are located.

The company has a controversial presence in California. Multiple national outlets, including Forbes, Mother Jones and the California Sunday, have published stories in recent years chronicling Wonderful’s massive water usage in otherwise bone-dry Central California.

Billionaire Wonderful CEO Stewart Resnick and wife Lynda Resnick have faced heavy criticism. The California Sunday story, published this January, called Stewart Resnick a “land baron.”

Forbes reported in 2015, amid California’s record-breaking drought, that the Resnicks’ orchards use about 120 billion gallons of water each year.

The Wonderful Co., headquartered in Los Angeles, brands itself as “America’s No. 1 tree nut brand,” and calls POM Wonderful the “No. 1 100% pomegranate brand in America” as well.

“In addition to providing our Central Valley employees and their families free health care and education, we are now able to help them achieve a significantly improved standard of living,” Lynda Resnick, vice chair and co-owner of The Wonderful Co., said in a statement.